Foul air: Ther­mal power more to blame than crack­ers

DNA (Daily News & Analysis) Mumbai Edition - - FRONT PAGE -

an easy source to blame our prob­lems upon. On the other hand, the for­mal sec­tors of the econ­omy like in­dus­try, au­to­mo­biles and en­ergy get am­ple lee­way de­spite their sig­nif­i­cant daily con­tri­bu­tion to the prob­lem. Let’s take the case of ther­mal power plants (TPPs), a rapidly ex­pand­ing sec­tor of the econ­omy en­joy­ing mas­sive pub­lic fi­nan­cial in­vest­ments. What is the over­sight on this sec­tor by air pol­lu­tion reg­u­la­tors? coal power plants. The rules gave over a year to the sec­tor to make the nec­es­sary tech­no­log­i­cal, fi­nan­cial and or­gan­i­sa­tional ar­range­ments to com­ply with these new stan­dards.

The rules pre­scribed dif­fer­ing stan­dards for three cat­e­gories of TPPs, those that were set up be­fore De­cem­ber 31, 2003; those in­stalled be­tween then and De­cem­ber 31, 2016, and those that would be in­stalled af­ter Jan­uary 1, 2017. The emis­sion stan­dards re­late to par­tic­u­late mat­ter, mer­cury, Sul­phur Diox­ide (SO2) and Ox­ides of Nitro­gen (NOx) — all crit­i­cal in­gre­di­ents of poor air qual­ity.

Ac­cord­ing to an of­fi­cially recog­nised study by IIT Kan­pur on the air qual­ity in Delhi, emis­sions from TPPs are re­spon­si­ble for 52 and 90 per cent of NOx and SO2. Coal burn­ing and fly ash within the city and sur­round­ing re­gions ac­count for over 35 per cent of PM 2.5 through­out the year. PM 2.5 are tiny par­ti­cles in the air with a di­am­e­ter of 2.5 mi­crome­tres or mi­crons (one mi­cron is one thou­sandth of a mil­lime­tre) that can get lodged in the res­pi­ra­tory sys­tem, caus­ing grave health risks.

The lack of im­ple­men­ta­tion of these rules was brought to the at­ten­tion of the Na­tional Green Tri­bunal a year and a half ago. The pre-Jan­uary 2017 plants have un­til De­cem­ber 2017 to come into com­pli­ance with the new stan­dards. While the En­vi­ron­ment Min­istry has tried to as­sure the Tri­bunal that reg­u­la­tory au­thor­i­ties are mon­i­tor­ing project com­pli­ance, In­dia’s dis­mal track record on en­vi­ron­men­tal com­pli­ance doesn’t leave room for hope. If these coal plants are not in com­pli­ance by De­cem­ber 2017, the court might be forced to re­sort to some ‘painful ac­tion’ yet again.

Se­condly, all TPPs that were in­stalled af­ter Jan­uary 1, 2017, should al­ready have been in com­pli­ance with the new air emis­sion re­quire­ments. In a re­cent sub­mis­sion on this case, the En­vi­ron­ment Min­istry dis­closed to the court that 16 new power plants, mostly of the NTPC, are in vi­o­la­tion of the new stan­dards. The min­istry has left it to the Tri­bunal to pass any or­der as it may deem fit. NTPC’s de­fault­ing power util­i­ties can­not claim in­abil­ity to im­ple­ment these new stan­dards as they are well-funded. In its 2017 En­vi­ron­ment Pol­icy, the com­pany com­mit- ted to com­ply with all rel­e­vant en­vi­ron­men­tal reg­u­la­tions. The new TPP norms, is one such.

The TPP rules could be­come one arena of pro­gres­sive pol­i­cy­mak­ing where the courts and gov­ern­ment work to­gether rather than against each other. It will be in greater pub­lic in­ter­est for them to en­force the new rules for TPPs as it will tackle the year-round pol­lu­tion. The episodic pol­lu­tion by the in­for­mal sec­tor is the prover­bial last straw that breaks the camel’s back as it pushes the al­ready high lev­els of baseload pol­lu­tion into the emer­gency zone. Rather than de­mon­is­ing them, there is much work still to be done to bring these sec­tors within the am­bit of reg­u­la­tion. There is a need to gen­er­ate their ac­cep­tance to be­ing reg­u­lated, for tech­no­log­i­cal sup­port and fi­nan­cial in­vest­ment in­stead of hold­ing them re­spon­si­ble for moder­nity’s wicked prob­lems.

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